#33 – Build a Kids Library in Cambodia

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It took me a couple of years of travelling in countries with massive poverty and dealing with the infinite moral conondrum faced when staring beggars in the eyes before I found a way of helping that I was genuinely comfortable with. At a loss for not knowing where cash handouts would end up and realizing the quick expiry of impact resulting from most types of ongoing support or aid, I found empowerment through education to make the most sense to me.

I was also incrdeibly moved by the tragic stories of genocide and systematic destruction of educated role models I heard while I was in Phnom Phen.

That’s why I choose to fund the construction of a library for kids in Cambodia.

The experience and success was, for obvious reasons, incredibly rewarding. In addition to the undeniable satisfaction from helping people, I also cherish the learning and self development that came from adopting what was then such a lofty goal – raising US$14,000 for something simply because I believed in it.

I learned people you thought would join you and help, wouldn’t. And people who you wouldn’t have expected to care, to care and help a whole lot.

I learned inspiration is the most powerful way to affect change. Some teachers were inspired to inspire thier students to inspire their friends and family to help. The change there was a lot bigger than just the donations. It was the space between the dollars that I was also very excited about. The learning, curiosity and emotions experienced by those who took the time to listen and consider…and maybe even inspire others.

Learning first hand how to move people to move others, even without the unmatched rewarding feeling, easily makes raising funds to build a kids library in Cambodia one of the top 100 things I’ve done.

Incessant Honking

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Everyone in Southeast Asia beeps their horn often. Since lines in the road are merely suggestions, it’s used as a means to warn people you’re coming. One driver we had in Cambodia was a little overboard. This mp3 is a sample from a stretch of open road. He’d honk as we passed traffic in either direction, people on bikes, people walking, people working in the fields, dogs, birds, side streets, holes in the ground, change in pavement and sometimes it seemed only because it’d been quiet for too long. After you listen to this clip, imagine multiplying its length times 600. That’s how many times you’d have to listen to experience the full five hours.

Listen Now! | 29 sec, 464KB


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Floating Village

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It cost us another $10 to have our driver to take us down a dusty road from the city to the river. We didn’t know anything about the floating village, except that he insisted we see it. He pulled over at a small building with three walls, a roof and a table where a couple men sat surrounding a metal cash box. I haggled with them on the exchange rates between the boat price listed in Cambodian Riels, my payment in Thai Baht and their change in US currency.

Back on the dusty road, I imagined how dry it must be during the dry season. The street dropped off on both sides into small waterways. Shacks stood high on skinny stalk legs. They didn’t look safe, but obviously held their weight against the rush of a wet season’s river. As we drove on, it became more congested. Stilted bamboo houses lined the entire road. The driver we had this day spoke some English. He told us the government lets the people live there for free, since they are too poor to afford anything else.

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Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat is one of the seven something wonder’s of the world. I can attest, since seeing it was quite wonderful. Here’s a quick history in case your interested. Think Roman Empire, but Hindu/Buddhist and in the middle of the jungle.

Wat means temple. The entire area surrounding Angkor Wat (the largest temple) is called Angkor. Many other amazing temples are located in Angkor. Since we were in Cambodia for such a short time, there was no way we could see them all, but we tried!

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Phnom Phen – Part 4 of 4 – Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide

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From the killing fields Won brought us to another place where massive numbers of murder and torture took place. The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Phen was once a high school, but during the reign of the Khmer Rouge it became a torture camp, prison and execution center. The walls previously meant to give studying students an escape from the busy city, were lined with barbed wire and became barriers of imprisonment. The museum sits in the center of a suburban neighborhood, just like any school would. Inside things are as unchanged as at the killing fields.

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Phnom Phen – Part 3 of 4 – Killing Fields

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I know very little about the history surrounding the genocides committed in Cambodia in the 1970’s. The reasons for war never seem to make much difference when faced with the horror of it. I do have the stories I was told and how they affected me. And they did affect me.

The car door magically swung open and two little brown hands shot towards my lap; palms up and hopeful. I’d been preoccupied thinking about Won’s stories and wasn’t expecting another challenge of the heart. Outside the car I was surrounded by beautiful, three foot, skin and bone children so anxious and hopeful that I had something for them. Each had a well practiced, well pronounced English phrase that cut through me.

“Take your picture! One dollar! Take your picture!” “Just one dollar please! One dollar please!” “Please mister, please mister…”

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Phnom Phen – Part 2 of 4 – Stories of Won

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When a Cambodian speaks of their family, they don’t usually mean the immediate family. They consider aunts, uncles and cousins to be family and stay very close, often all living under the same roof. Won’s family lived in a village that sits sixty five kilometers from the Vietnam border. In 1970 the neighboring war was raging and Vietcong were crossing into Cambodia to hide in the many border villages, including Won’s. When the US government learned of this they started bombing villages in Cambodia.

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Phnom Phen – Part 1 of 4 – Taxi Ride I’ll Never Forget

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We had just set our bags down in our hotel room in Phnom Phen when the phone rang. Not expecting a call, the sound took a moment to register. Stacey and I looked at each other then back at the phone. “I wonder who’s calling us” I said realizing I should answer before it was too late to find out. I listened to the calm, soft voice and searched for comprehension through a thick Khmer accent. After enticing the man to repeat himself a few times, I got the gist of his English. Won was his name, or at least how I pronounced it. Later we the spelling to be “Nget Vannarith”, but decided it best we keep calling him Won.

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Landed in Cambodia

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We’re in Cambodia. I didn’t realize there was a time change between here and Thailand, but there is. It’s about 100 years. Between Bangkok traffic and the roads on the southern islands in Thailand, I thought i’d seen the worst of driving conditions in the world, but the ride from the Phnom Phen airport into the city was the craziest yet. Getting through the city felt like trying to make it of a field turned unmarked parking lot after the blue angels finale at an airshow, but with people on bikes and motorcycles wizzing around you like flies.

We’re only in Cambodia three days, so we’ve really got to rush to see the major sights. Our driver should be arriving any minute to take us to see the Killing Fields. I might end up coming back after seeing Stacey off in Bangkok. With so much to see, I always feel rushed though.

Oh yea…they use US currency here. Kind of. It’s accepted everywhere and most places advertise prices in it as opposed to the Cambodian Riel. Weird huh? We paid the airport toll in Thai Baht, got half our change in US dollars and the rest in Riels. It can’t be good for the ecomony for three different currencies to be floating around. They just got ATMs in the country like last month, so who knows, maybe the Riel will make a comeback.

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